Haute cuisine’s natural man
Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, of the Michelin-starred restaurant Les Creations de Narisawa, is known for crafting elegant dishes imbued with a profound reverence for nature. Last January, he took part in an unusual culinary event to raise awareness of environmental issues called Cook It Raw. Narisawa joined 12 of the world’s most talented young chefs for three days of fishing, hunting, and foraging in the forests of Fruilli, on Italy’s border with Slovenia. The object: to create a spectacular feast using strictly local ingredients and minimal energy. The theme: Winter was hard.
It was indeed a challenge. Few ingredients were available, but Narisawa found inspiration in the woods. He made a dish of miso-marinated venison topped with honey-soaked morsels of fruit that blew the critics away.
Energy from the land
“In a remote countryside, with little information, we went around to the local farms and markets, witnessed the slaughter (of a pig), and went fishing -- with poor results,” he recalls. “But I found that because I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I could really see the natural landscape, and felt an energy from the land.”
His experience there became the basis for this spring’s forest-themed menu at Les Creations de Narisawa. His “forest bread,” baked tableside on a hot stone, incorporates arboreal ingredients -- maple syrup and powdered chestnut wood -- to delicious effect. In other specials, the chef uses an array of wild herbs, sansai mountain vegetables and flower buds. At the moment, he’s also exploring ways to cook with tree shoots.
The 41-year-old chef is no stranger to experimentation. He’s constantly trying out new ingredients and techniques. In 1997, he worked with university professors and chemistry researchers to determine the ideal temperature for cooking meat (60 degrees Celsius). Fascinated with the idea of sumi -- charcoal normally used for grilling -- he began using charred, carbonized vegetables as a seasoning.
Narisawa grew up in Aichi prefecture and had dreamed of becoming a chef ever since he was a child.
“My grandfather ran a Japanese sweets shop, and my father ran a Western sweets shop,” he says. “The kitchen was my playground.”
Determined to master classic French cuisine, Narisawa set sail for Europe at the age of 19 and trained under renowned chefs such as Joel Robuchon and Paul Bocuse. He returned to Japan in 1996 and started his first restaurant in the seaside town of Odawara, in Kanagawa prefecture. After seven years, he and his wife Yuko moved to Tokyo and opened Les Creations de Narisawa. The restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in 2008, and was the only eatery in Japan to be featured on San Pellegrino’s list of the world’s 50 best restaurants last year.
Narisawa has a unique way of recreating landscapes on the plate. A dish of succulent quail, cooked to perfection using a laborious technique called arroser, with wine-braised mushrooms, candied potato skins and crispy fried Japanese vegetables, is an edible timberland tableau. It comes with a bracing tree-sap infusion, served in a tiny cup carved from a tree branch. Amid a savory pool of Mimolette cheese soup and surrounded by a profusion of colorful herbs and flowers, a plentiful mound of green asparagus, soramame broad beans and Morel mushrooms resembles a carefully manicured English garden.
Some dishes have an evocative, haiku-like quality. The earthy integrity of the organic gobo burdock root soup, prepared entirely without seasonings, compels you to contemplate the vegetable deeply, as though tasting it for the first time. Inspired by the misty shores of the Basque country in Northern Spain, “Ash 2009” is a single grilled squid, smothered in a flurry of nitrogen-frozen powdered olive oil, lemon juice and paprika “sumi” -- ash made from charred red pepper. Curls of “steam” rise from the surface of the squid as the powdered mixture melts, coating it in an inky-black vinaigrette. The final dish is an impossibly moist and tender piece of Matsuzaka beef coated in a thin layer of sumi made from blackened Japanese leeks.
Chef Narisawa hopes that his efforts in the kitchen will spark an interest in fresh, seasonal ingredients and help put his guests back in touch with nature. He encourages people to visit the countryside, where “you can find true Japanese culture and ingredients.”
“Even us Japanese, we are forgetting that our original food culture is slow food,” he observes.
Les Creations de Narisawa: 2-6-15 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku; +81 (3) 5785 0799